Pictured (L-R): Legal Team Leader; Izaac Sugrue, Senior Legal Advisor; Tiffany Matsis, General Manager/General Counsel; Paul Kirby, Legal Advisors; Laura Sturch, Liana Misa and Jessica Palmer.
Can you give us an overview of the legal function at Engineering NZ Te Ao Rangahau and how it supports the work of the organisation?
We make up a team of six lawyers; our General Counsel/General Manager of Regulation, Legal Team Leader, Senior Legal Advisor and three Legal Advisors. Small, but mighty! We form part of the regulation function at Te Ao Rangahau, alongside our assessment team who are responsible for overseeing the process of assessment for Chartered Professional Engineers in New Zealand and ensuring our engineers are compliant with industry standards.
Located in the heart of Te Whanganui-a-Tara, overlooking the waterfront, on the doorstep of many of the CBD's cult favourite cafes and restaurants – you will find the Te Ao Rangahau legal team! Our team generally choose to work in the office; however, we have a supportive flexible working policy within our organisation which empowers us to decide how we work our hours, from wherever works best for us. Our team love the option of flexible working, but staying connected is something integral to our team culture, so we make the effort to be present in the office and schedule regular coffee and our mandatory cheese scone catch ups.
Our legal team members wear many hats, and the work we lead is broad and diverse. We deliver legal support to all internal departments at Te Ao Rangahau; governance, marketing, membership, people and finance, policy, and projects and engagement. We are also involved in the strategic projects of the organisation such as Engineer to the Contract, and the transition from the Greater Christchurch Claims Resolution Services to the New Zealand Claims Resolution Service, to name a few.
We hold a unique responsibility as in-house lawyers at Te Ao Rangahau. While we provide the in-house legal advisory function, we also double as the regulators for engineers in New Zealand. This involves facilitating the complaints resolution and disciplinary process for engineers which allows members of the public to raise concerns about engineers regarding their competence and conduct. Our team receive on average 40-50 complaints a year. We investigate, and then refer the complaints to decision makers, where they may be referred to a Disciplinary Committee hearing where the complaint is upheld or dismissed. Our process is aligned with principles of natural justice, to ensure we let all parties to the complaint be heard and participate in a fair process. Where possible, we try to resolve complaints early for parties through early resolution processes such as mediation. This function is essential to how we regulate engineers in New Zealand to ensure they are compliant with industry standards and to ultimately keep the public safe.
What does the team do to build and enhance the influence of the in-house legal function across the organisation?
The legal team is heavily woven into the essence of Te Ao Rangahau. We have a strong focus on our people and building positive relationships across different departments in the organisation as well as externally. It is important to our function that we are people first and lawyers second. For us, this means ensuring our function is made to be approachable and accessible for all. We’re here for our staff and strive to make our legal service personable. The questions we receive are sometimes non-legal and we step into the role of sounding boards, which is how we know that we’ve created a safe place for staff to seek guidance to achieve their goals. We believe if you have good relationships with your staff, in turn, it will generate greater outcomes for the organisation and people are more likely to feel comfortable to come to you when there is a problem.
Recently, our legal team has been named as finalists for the ILANZ People and Culture Excellence Awards at the ILANZ 2023 conference in Tauranga. This is a huge honour for our team, and we feel privileged to be named alongside the other equally amazing finalists in our category. To be finalists in this category is a truly an ode to the team culture we have fostered within not only our legal team, but organisation wide too.
Are there any changes or new technologies the team is planning to roll out in the next 12 months?
On that note, we do have a couple of things in the pipeline! Our focus for the next 12 months is brainstorming and collaborating our ideas to strengthen our processes in the legal team so that we can be more efficient and dynamic. To mention one example, we want to revamp our complaints process that currently operates through the 2002 rules. We believe that changes to our current processes will enhance our organisation goals of bringing engineering to life and ensuring that our members continue to engineer better lives for the public to thrive in Aotearoa.
The organisation has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. Can you tell us about your Diversity Agenda?
Absolutely! Te Ao Rangahau is committed to change and diversity in the engineering profession in Aotearoa. The Diversity Agenda is a joint initiative from Engineering New Zealand, the New Zealand Institute of Architects, and ACE New Zealand, established to make engineering and architecture better professions for all.
Launched in early 2018 with an initial goal to see 20% more women engineers and architects, the campaign has since expanded beyond gender to encapsulate the full range of diversity and inclusion.
Firms across both engineering and architecture, and those that work within these industries, are encouraged to sign up as members to show they are serious about diversity and inclusion and benefit from access to resources, events, tools and tips.
Members who want to make the ultimate commitment can then sign the Diversity Agenda Accord, whereby signatory CEs and business owners are held publicly accountable and personally responsible for achieving truly diverse industries.